Sonic Youth never really took off into the mainstream zeitgeist quite like their contemporaries. Pixies and later Nirvana, Radiohead and Pavement all head their breakout single or album that launched them into the stratosphere, or about as high as it’s possible to go for an indie/alternative rock band. Whereas almost everyone knows ‘Creep’ or ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, I’ve met very few people who even know what a Sonic Youth is. Much like the Velvet Underground, they managed to simultaneously impregnate and define a whole culture and slip off relatively under-the-radar until a bunch of famous bands cited them as the reason they picked up a guitar in the first place.
In a way, it was inevitable. The album’s several masterpieces are 7 minutes give or take, and each incorporate the hallmark noise rock breakdowns that can be an acquired taste and aren’t exactly conducive to morning radio even though ‘The Sprawl’ is my idea of a perfect song to start the day. What Sonic Youth accomplish so well on this album is the marriage of their earlier underground ticks and mannerisms, exemplified on their previous album ‘Sister’, with a genuinely epic widescreen aesthetic. Despite the long runtime not a single note, not one discrete moment feels unnecessary or gratuitous. My first thought whenever I see an album that closes with a ‘trilogy’ or medley over 10 minutes long tends to go something like; “just close your eyes and think of England, it’ll all be over soon”. Not since Abbey Road has a band fulfilled that kind of ambition so completely, each part leaving a crater impact contributing to the greater whole. Breaking the album into its two parts is an ambient interlude with lyrics about weed-induced memory loss that manages to sound like a broadcast from the far reaches of the Milky Way.
Even those tracks which take on a standard rock structure are always spinning just off-kilter. Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo’s guitars use alternate tuning throughout. Steve Shelley’s trademark deft subtlety on the drums serves only to emphasise each track’s weight. Kim Gordon eschews all expectations of the female voice, fluctuating between irritation and guttural savagery. The most melodic ‘pop-rock’ song, ‘Candle’ contains a minute-long hard rock tangent, crashing back down to reality just at the moment when it begins to overstay its welcome. Like any great postmodern piece, Daydream Nation ceaselessly straddles the fine line between high and low art, between classic rock overtures, an earnest rallying cry for the art and a generation, songs with titles like ‘The Sprawl’ and ‘Rain King’, all the way to movie references and adoration of ‘Total Trash’. Every track venerates the Greats before tearing them down and planting a flag on their territory.
Beyond all it cultural import and its seismic impact on indie rock, this album is just undeniably brilliant from wall to wall. Contained within the first four tracks is perhaps all you’ll ever need from guitars, drums and a bass. That Thurston Moore on ‘Hey Joni’ can scream ‘KICK IT!’ into the mic without coming off like a total dork from Spinal Tap is testament to its unbridled genius. Why the hell are you still reading and not listening to this monster? Let the opening chord progression of ‘Teen Age Riot’ wash over you and brace yourself for 70 minutes of orchestrated chaos.
– By Alex Boyd